I had the pure pleasure of reading The Moonflower Vine for the 2nd time recently. Our Fiction at Noon group tackled it (and loved it btw) and I was delighted to have another opportunity to read this treasure from Missouri-born Jetta Carleton. This book was written in 1962 and received a favorable response at that time, but was largely forgotten until Jane Smiley included The Moonflower Vine among the classics she read (or reread) and then discussed in her 2005 book, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, and wrote of it:
“To my mind, this is a novel characteristic of its time, the 1950s, because it completely avoids all political themes. To read it you would never know that black people existed in southern Missouri, that the area was still a hotbed of Civil War resentments, that the Cold War was raging, and that World War II had taken place. The novel exists in a timeless world of seasons and of girls coming of age, love their greatest concern, with earning a living teaching school or giving music lessons a distant second. The Soames family thinks only of religion, love, nature, and sometimes music. They are American innocents in spite of their lustiness, quite untainted by the compromises of American history. The novel is neither liberal nor conservative — more, perhaps, tribal, in the sense that while the characters do make authentic connections, these connections are only within their own family rather than with anyone outside (except for Jessica, who moves away). In addition, the world is repeatedly redeemed, not by human action but by natural renewal, as symbolized by the nightly flowering of the moonflower vine (a relative of the morning glory).”
At its heart, it is a story of family…. the Soames family, and their life and all its complexities told from 5 points of view. I considered this one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. I enthusiastically recommend to anyone who will listen to me. It is the type of book I know I will read more than twice in my lifetime, and I am confident with each re-reading I will discover something I missed before. The writing style is unique and lyrical and as far as I’m concerned, there is nothing else quite like it in the world of fiction.